With a student housing development proposed in College Township, homeowners have offered solutions to protect a nearby nature preserve and keep their neighborhoods safe.

And after months of discussion, township council is evaluating options to strike a balance between community concerns and development plans.

Over the course of planning, dozens of residents have voiced concerns about the Aspen Heights project, which proposes two, four-story residential buildings and commercial space at the former Hilltop Mobile Home Park. Though development would revitalize a vacant property, township residents worry it will lead to increased pollution and traffic at Thompson Woods Preserve, as well as through their neighborhoods. There is currently no route for pedestrians and cyclists to travel from the site to State College Borough.

“It’s a difficult corridor just in terms of overall traffic numbers, ownership of land, things like that,” Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh told council on Thursday. “But I think this does begin to put a little bit more focus on things.”

Using proposed maps and routes suggested by residents, College Township staff drafted potential pathways that could make travel safer and easier for those living in the development and surrounding neighborhoods by way of College Avenue, Bel Air Hills Road, Evergreen Road or a route that would take people to University Drive.

“It’s hard to be the subject matter expert on everything, so I really appreciate that some of our residents are bringing their subject matter to bear and offer solutions on things — versus just identifying the problems that we already know and we would fix if we had an easy solution,” Councilman Rich Francke added.

Every proposed alignment would begin at the development site, but township engineer Don Franson said some would require improvements and could run through Thompson Woods Preserve, and face challenges with topography. The proposed “purple route,” which would be located near College Avenue, goes through the preserve, two private properties and Penn State lands. The only route that is bicycle approved is the red route, which would run to University Drive. The red route is also the longest proposed route, Franson said.

Several residents commented on the proposals and thanked staff for incorporating their suggestions into planning initiatives. Others, however, said they wanted to see more options and refined plans, especially ones that reflect any environmental impacts associated with the proposed routes.

Moving forward, College Township plans to discuss the proposal at future meetings and seek input from property owners who could be affected by the routes, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, State College Borough and Penn State.

“I can’t commit that we’ll be picking this up at the April 15 meeting,” Council chair Eric Bernier said. “It’ll really depend on where we are with Aspen Heights and what other agenda items we have to tackle.”

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Marley Parish reports on local government for the Centre Daily Times. She grew up in Slippery Rock and graduated from Allegheny College.

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